Friday, March 23, 2012

Mass Effect 3 and Me

I've written a lot about Mass Effect 3 in the last few weeks.  Suffice it to say, I'm a fan of the game and don't feel the slightest bit "betrayed" by it, though I do think some (not all) of the concerns many players have with the endings are indeed valid criticism, and I understand deeply why there's so much emotion tied up in the criticism as well.

Here's a brief round-up of the interesting things I've had to say about the game so far:

Review: based on a very fast, default-Shep playthrough; it had to be ready to go into the world at midnight on launch day.  And it was still a great game.

I also got to make a cool gallery of some of the voice actors, and my co-worker Chris made a video I love out of the screenshots I took from my Shep's game (contains spoilers). 

And then there's the piece I'm most glad I wrote (spoilers, obvs), Why Mass Effect 3's Ending Doesn't Need Changing.  And if I'm being strictly honest (eeeeeeeeeeeeee) this tweet about that piece, from a certain Jennifer Hale, made my week. 

There's a huge discussion to be had about authorship, art, participation, interactivity, ownership, and entitlement.  Some pieces have been doing a good job digging into the actual issues (my boss did one; Leigh Alexander, another; Dan Bruno, a third) but I think for my part I'm going to wait a few more months to have a final opinion on the matter -- here, at work, or anywhere else.  I want to see how it actually shakes out first.  There's kind of a lot going on in that.

(Edited March 24 to add Dan Bruno article link.) 

EDIT Afternoon March 24: I have deleted all comments and locked the post. The discussion, such as it was, was circular, uncivil, and unproductive.  For readers wishing to discuss the merits of the game itself, see previous ME3 post.


  1. First, an analysis of the one-ending-with-variations from one of the few review sites that has not been either excruciatingly neutral or actively sycophantic in regard to EA/BioWare's behavior thus far:

    I imagine that gamefront may well find itself blackballed in the future when it comes to access to demos and review copies and on-the-record sources from EA. Such is often the price for putting out such a forthright and fact-heavy takedown of a flawed creative blunder. For that courage, I am giving them more of my time, traffic, and recommendations.

  2. Secondly, everything about EA's handling of this has been relentlessly sales-maximizing PR hardball.

    EA systemaically forbade reviewers the time, uploads, and resources to thoroughly play through multiple sets of game choices, biasing reviews heavily toward analysis of combat gameplay and universal callback cutscenes while impeding or denying access to real flaws in character imports and depth of final choices. Reviewers couldn't see import flaws before deadline, could not evaluate Day One DLC at all, and were encouraged to perceive bad results in their game ending as a byproduct of a rushed playthrough rather than as real flaws in the ending. All of this slants reviews toward the positive, and manipulates hype to encourage fans to commit early and invest in non-refundable product without exercising critical judgment.

    Is such a manipulative pattern of behavior to subborn and co-opt journalists illegal? Of course not. But it is blatantly misrepresentative and squeamishly quasi-ethical. Serious independent journalists, however, would push back against such efforts, hard. To see journalists like Leigh Alexander refuse to acknowledge being played, refuse to take umbrage for being snowed over, and instead vent their ire and condescending judgment on duped and dissatisfied customers is somewhat disgusting. Preserving corporate access to serve as an uncritical stenographer for "the artists at BioWare" shows how unserious such writers are about journalistic rigor.

  3. I am going to tell you exactly once: this is my personal blog, and it is moderated in the Horde model requesting good faith arguments and actual facts. If you have any actual facts that reviewers were "encouraged" to perceive their game's story and ending in one way or another then lay them out on the table.  For my part, my only discussions with EA after I received my review copy were technical ("did the package arrive? Is the game running correctly in Origin?"), and I presume it was the same for every other outlet's reviewers.

    Perhaps the journalists in question don't actually feel they were "played."  Leigh's a pretty top notch writer. You don't have to like her and you don't have to agree with her, but perhaps you shouldn't come barreling in assuming that no-one has any integrity or preferences of their own.  If you have facts, use them.  Emotion and assumptions aren't facts.

  4. Finally, rather than admit to obvious and manifest flaws in their creation, EA/BioWare has copied every page from the George Lucas and George W. Bush PR playbooks and tried to shine the turd and change the subject without end.

    Employees are directed to butter up any and all remotely positive press and stroke fan egos (q.v. the linked tweet in the article), as well as engage in serial efforts to say "we are listening" before deflecting conversation (e.g. starting several "what was your favorite part of ME3?" threads on BioWare fora).

    The intent is obviously to try to weather the storm, refuse to admit any error, and deflect attention again and again in the hope that people will eventually stop expressing dissatisfaction at not receiving anything close to what the marketing campaign promised. The company, like Lucas and Bush, is trying to find a way to make the endeavor's manifest flaws into a matter of debatable opinion that can be dismissed in time. The intense and sustained commitment to willful ignorance about what they have done is dismaying to witness and is destroying their reputation far more than the flawed product itself. It is not their failure, but their effort at double-talk and cover-up, that is torpedoing their credibility.

  5. Wow. That is a surprisingly involved conspiracy theory for the marketing of a video game. I was anticipating the Illuminati becoming involved at some point (though maybe they work for EA too.)

    Please, for a moment, take a deep breath. Put the tinfoil hat down.

    I'm not going to bother making a point-by-point reply to your post, because you're clearly dogmatically entrenched in your opinion at this point. But I will say this:

    While it is certainly possible that the EA PR department gathered in a dark conference room together, twirled their mustaches, and cackled at their diabolical scheme to blind game reviewers (who played the entire game before release), or to hide the game's flaws from fans (which are subjective), it is in cases like this that Occam's Razor usually applies.

    The shortest, simplest, and probably most truthful answer is thus:
    *There are many game reviewers who simply liked the game (like my wife)
    *There are many players who like the game, and there are many who don't like the game.
    *The players who don't like the game are the most vocal, because the ones who did like it are either (re)playing it, or have moved on.
    *EA PR is acting like the PR branch of any other company on Earth. They're going to highlight positive reviews and downplay negative ones, because that's basic common sense.

  6. Please, for a moment, take a deep breath. Put the tinfoil hat down.
    I have been firmly informed that I will only be told exactly once that this is a private blog insisting upon good faith argumentation and facts.

    Respectfully, I find efforts to invoke conspiracy theory, joke about the Illuminati, imply irrational hysteria, and assert tinfoil-hatted insanity to be the opposite of good faith argumentation and citation of facts. You presume much, sir, and I see no way to interpret it other than as insulting ad hominem.

  7. You're right that it was too much an ad hominem attack, and I've explained the blog standards to him.  I prefer everyone to go after the argument, not the arguer.

    That said, I do feel also that your (perfectly acceptable) negative emotions toward the game are continuing to cloud your perceptions of reality -- or at least, demanding a standard from EA/BioWare that doesn't exist anywhere, in any entertainment medium. 

    Again, I tell you that to the best of my knowledge, only the PC review copies had issues with import and that, again to the best of my knowledge, the only major outlets to use the PC version for review were me (at my request) and Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

    As regards their community management strategy: that's how community management works.  You try to create areas where the discontent can explain their displeasure, without letting that overrule the entire rest of the community's existence.  That is what the dreaded "PR" is for, as well as just plain old community managers and moderators.  The BioWare Social Network (which is kind of a cesspit, really) is not called the "Complain About Only One Thing, All Other Conversations Must Cease" network.  As for "instutitional media only supports the ending," you have seen the message from BioWare co-founder Dr. Ray Muzyka, yes?

    I mean, look.  Clearly you're upset, and you hate what you were given, and you're going to stay upset.  And that's fine.  But from where I sit I see far more dissent and discussion than you seem to acknowledge exists. 

    And for what it's worth, as a player, I've played it through twice now (23.75 hours on my first playthrough, 31.5 on my second, which was with my ME1/ME2 import) and I liked it even better the second go-through than the first and stand by pretty much everything from the original review. *shrugs*  I don't think we're going to get anywhere continuing to argue this thread.